FAYETTEVILLE – Dominque Johnson left his Crowley, Texas home as a running back and vowed he would return close to home at the Dallas Cowboys AT&T Stadium as a running back.
So the 6-1, 240 redshirt sophomore convinced Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman to end his August preseason move to tight end after Day One and return to where Johnson wanted to run for the Razorbacks.
Given Johnson’s contributions to the 16th-ranked Razorbacks’ 3-0 start heading into Saturday’s CBS televised 2:30 p.m. SEC opener against the nationally No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, Pittman gladly admits Johnson knew where he needed to play.
On 15 carries, one a 48-yard run, Johnson has netted 132 yards and three touchdowns.
“We moved him to tight end, he got his chance to go back the next day,” Pittman said. “He said, ‘Hey, I’m going to show you that you don’t want to move me. That I’m too valuable here.’ And he has done that.”
The big back recruited to be a short-yardage power runner proved he can do that but also run by and elude defenders, too.
“I never thought, ‘Hey, when we put him in the game I’m going to be overly excited that he’s in there,” Pittman said. “But I’m excited. I mean, this guy is a good running back. Tough, good blocker. It just goes to show you sometimes you’ve got to wait your turn.”
He waited his turn last year lettering on special teams. So he wasn’t about to be turned away without a turn at running back this year.
“Moving to tight end, it really put a fire under me because I wanted to come in and play running back,” Johnson said Tuesday evening post practice. “Because running back’s all I’ve been playing. So running back is what I wanted to play. Them moving me to tight end made me just want to go harder at running back to show them I’m an actual running back.”
No doubt Johnson is an actual running back says senior offensive lineman Ty Clary who has blocked for Johnson variously as a center, guard and tackle. And while Johnson has proven a more versatile runner than advertised, he’s never forgotten his power back roots, Clary said.
“Dom, it’s kind of like he’s looking for contact out there,” Clary said. “He wants to run you over.”
The one day tight end has carved a niche in Arkansas’ four-back rotation that starts with junior returning 2020 leading rusher Trelon Smith and also includes true freshmen Raheim “Rocket” Sanders and AJ Green.
They stay fresh with the alternating. And so far they’ve kept in a groove with the limited carries. Smith, averages 5.1 on 42 totes, Sanders 5.5 on 25, Johnson, 8.8 on 15 and Green, 7.4 on 14.
“We have different packages for each back,” Johnson said. “ It can be a period of time where you’re sitting on the sideline, and somebody else may be in the game, but you’ve got to stay ready at all times because you never know when you’re going to go in the game.”
Johnson, who said he played Pewee football at AT&T Stadium and a couple of fellow Texans become Razorbacks, senior linebacker Bumper Pool of Lucas, and third-year sophomore defensive tackle Taurean Carter were asked about coming home to play as Hogs.
“It’s pretty exciting to go back home and be able to play at the Dallas Cowboys stadium,” Johnson said. “I live maybe 20 minutes from there. It’s going to be exciting to have my family there and hopefully to come out with a win.”
Carter played in two high school playoff games at AT&T Stadium.
“Great memories,” Carter said. “I can’t wait to go back. I’m hoping to see it fully packed out. It gets pretty packed during the high school playoffs, but I’m wanting to see what this game really is about on Saturday.”
After playing guard, tackle and center in the same game during last Saturday’s 45-10 victory over Georgia Southern, Clary of Fayetteville said he played just one position in Tuesday’s closed practice.
Presumably center. Starting center Ricky Stromberg is questionable from the injury that removed him from last Saturday’s fourth quarter after Clary first went from guard to right tackle replacing injured starter Dalton Wagner.
“It was a little stressful,” Clary said. “But it was fun going out there and playing a little tackle then going from guard back to center. It’s all about just trying to help the team.”
Wherever Clary plays Saturday, it’s against an A&M defense on a run of seven consecutive shutout quarters. Since overcoming a 7-0 first-quarter lead, A&M beat Colorado, 10-7 in Game Two then skunked New Mexico, 34-0.
“They are definitely a solid defense,” Clary said. “They do a lot of really good things and I’m excited to see how we match up.”